Social skills interventions (SSIs) are commonly used to improve social functioning in youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a condition characterized by differences in social cognition and social communication. Although more traditional SSIs have used knowledge-based, didactic instruction, recent research has explored the utility of performance-based SSIs, which use various activities to support implicit learning of social skills in supportive, enriched environments. This article reviews the extant literature evaluating the effectiveness or efficacy of five performance-based SSIs using theater-based approaches on social cognition and social communication. Overall, this body of literature suggests social communication gains that include increased peer interactions, peer liking, and reciprocal friendships, as well as social cognitive gains in theory of mind and affect recognition. This review also discusses theoretical models that may help explain the emerging strengths of performance- and theater-based SSIs with underlying hypotheses related to the social communication and social cognitive differences in ASD. Limitations of performance-based SSIs in the evidence-base include several approaches in initial stages of research with small sample sizes and limited maintenance of effects. Future research should aim to bridge the research-to-practice gap and use more rigorous designs and more diverse samples, including those with cooccurring intellectual disability.
- autism spectrum disorder
- performance-and theater-based social skills interventions
- social cognition
- social communication
- social skills interventions